It’s no surprise that Washington produces, attracts, and rewards smart women. What is surprising is the number of new women in power positions since Washingtonian’s last list of most powerful women in 2013.
This year, we salute the first female four-star admiral, applaud the first woman to head the Kennedy Center, and look for breaking news from a cadre of women in key positions at new-media outlets such as Vox and BuzzFeed.
What makes all of the women on our list powerful? They define the agenda and determine the course of action in their enterprises. They’re not necessarily members of Congress, for example, but could be the staffers who steer congressional action.
Over the past six months, we talked to dozens of area leaders to put together this list of more than 100 of Washington’s most powerful women. The roster reflects the many spheres where women now hold sway, in both the public and private sectors as well as in the arts, science, and community service.
Arts and Letters
Music Director, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
The BSO plays a third of its concerts at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Alsop also brings classical programs to Montgomery County schoolkids.
President and CEO, Washington Performing Arts
Bilfield fills local stages with artists of all music and dance genres, and concert venues rely on this longtime presenting organization to keep them in the black.
Directors, Smithsonian Museums
Broun heads the American Art Museum, including the Renwick Gallery. Chiu is Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, hired to bring new donors to a beleaguered museum still deflated by the “inflatable roof” fiasco. Cole, a former President of Spelman College, is in charge of the National Museum of African Art. Sajet runs the National Portrait Gallery, one of the Smithsonian’s gems.
Executive Director and CEO, Sixth & I
Esther Safran Foer
Foer has turned the reborn historic synagogue into a, um, cultural mecca. Recent speakers included Salman Rushdie, Mindy Kaling, and Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer.
Monica Jeffries Hazangeles
Hazangeles runs the largest and most productive venue for performing arts in Maryland, with 260 shows annually attracting 250,000 patrons. More than 1,000 students also take classes there.
Director, Phillips Collection
Kosinski has preserved and expanded Washington’s premier private museum, attracting major gifts to add to the Phillips family’s legacy.
President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The first woman to head the Kennedy Center, Rutter recently announced a major expansion, including three pavilions on the south plaza and a pedestrian bridge connecting to the Potomac River waterfront.
Artistic Director, Arena Stage
Smith led Arena through a dramatic recreation of its space and an expansion of its mission. She produces more works by women and minority playwrights than many other professional theaters and attracts the most diverse audiences in town.
Advocacy, Philanthropy, and Nonprofits
President and CEO, United Way of the National Capital Area
Former managing Director of the community-investment-and-engagement division at Fannie Mae, Allen-Herring is the turnaround artist the charity needed.
President, CityBridge Foundation
CityBridge invests in programs to improve DC schools. Bradley also chairs the Washington regional board of Teach for America.
CEO, Case Foundation
A onetime senior executive at AOL, Case promotes the use of technology to assist nonprofits as well as an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy.
Executive Director, Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Rose Ann Cleveland
In the past ten years, the foundation has awarded $214 million to nearly 950 organizations in the Washington area.
President and CEO, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
Goren spent four years as President of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation before being selected to head the Meyer Foundation last year.
President, Catalogue for Philanthropy, Greater Washington
Harman’s guide is a trusted source for funding often-overlooked small charities.
President, NARAL Pro Choice America
Since 2013, Hogue has led national and state efforts to combat restrictions on abortion rights.
President and CEO, Voto Latino
Maria Teresa Kumar
Conventional wisdom is that you can’t win the White House without the Latino vote.
President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Moua heads a leading nonprofit advocating for Asian-Americans on immigration and other issues.
President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
Murguía leads one of the largest advocacy organizations dedicated to Hispanic civil rights.
Chairman and CEO, Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Reynolds’s foundation has donated $100 million to the Kennedy Center and millions more to other beneficiaries in the performing arts as well as education and community service.
President and CEO, New America
President and CEO, Martha’s Table
Stonesifer, who previously headed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Smithsonian Board of Regents, has a multimillion-dollar address book.
President, Center for American Progress
Tanden took over from John Podesta in 2011 and now oversees the progressive policy-research and advocacy think tank.
Business, Labor, and Lobbying
General Manager, IBM US Federal Government
Altman heads IBM’s efforts to upgrade government IT to meet growing border- and homeland-security needs.
Founder and CEO, WashingtonFirst Bank
Shaza L. Andersen
Andersen’s institution has grown to $1.5 billion in assets and 17 branches in Virginia, Maryland, and DC.
President and CEO, Grocery Manufacturers Association
Bailey is involved in all major food-labeling issues.
President and CEO, CTIA-The Wireless Association
Meredith Attwell Baker
A veteran telecommunications executive, Baker is a former commissioner of the FCC.
Vice President, Amazon Web Services
Carlson’s company has 1,500 federal-government customers.
Head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, Dropbox
Cottle was previously Democratic staff Director for the Senate Finance Committee.
Vice President for Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric
According to the Atlantic magazine, between 2007 and 2012, GE secured more than $16 billion worth of federal contracts.
Top Political Lobbyists
Glover is a top lobbyist with strong Republican ties. Podesta is a top lobbyist with strong Democratic ties. Politically polar opposites, both are hot hired guns.
President and CEO, Haddad Media
The woman to see if you want to get booked on TV, quoted in the media, or invited to the top parties in town.
Executive Vice President of Finance and Global Treasurer, Marriott International
Handlon leads Marriott’s corporate-finance organization, overseeing the financial health and strategy of the $14-billion company.
President, Service Employees International Union
Mary Kay Henry
Henry is one of the leaders in the “Fight for $15” minimum-wage campaign, expanding her efforts beyond the union’s membership.
President and CEO, Lockheed Martin
Hewson just scored a major sole-source contract to build a combat-management system for future Navy frigates.
US Government, Regulatory-Affairs, and Public-Policy Leader for PwC
Laura Cox Kaplan
Kaplan also holds the purse strings on the firm’s political-action committee.
President and CEO, American Public Power Association
APPA represents 2,000 community-owned electric utilities, serving more than 48 million people.
President and CEO, Northern Virginia Technology Council
Bobbie Greene Kilberg
Kilberg is godmother of NoVa’s tech community.
Chef/Owner, Ris Restaurant
Lacoste is a judge for Launch Pad, a competition to identify and launch promising new culinary concepts at DC’s Union Market.
Senior Vice President of Federal-Government Affairs, Comcast Corporation
Maxfield, a former staffer for senators Tom Daschle and Bob Kerrey, oversees all political activity for the $69-billion company.
Executive Vice President for Global Public Policy, Time Warner
She was the top lobbyist for Viacom and advised the Chairman of the FCC.
Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations for the Americas, Google
The former congresswoman from New York represents one of the biggest-ticket lobbying shops—Google reportedly spent more than $5 million in the first quarter of 2015.
President and CEO, American Beverage Association
Susan K. Neely
Neely’s claim to fame: She got Coke and Pepsi to work together on consumer initiatives.
Chairman and CEO, General Dynamics
Despite defense cuts, GD has had strong profit growth under Novakovic’s leadership.
Government-and-Politics Outreach Manager, Facebook
Patterson is a social-media wizard who’ll be in high demand during the 2016 campaigns.
Chef/Owner, Restaurant Nora
Pouillon, who recently released a memoir, My Organic Life, is a longtime driving force behind the movement toward more organic, environmentally conscious cuisine.
Founder and CEO, Rand Construction Corporation
Rabbitt is a former board chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and is working with Harvard Business School on a program to prepare more women to sit on corporate boards.
President, Forest City Washington
Deborah Ratner Salzberg
Salzberg heads the real-estate-development effort for a 48-acre mixed-use project near Nationals Park.
President and CEO, National Restaurant Association
Sweeney advocates for the industry as it deals with restaurant-wage mandates and other critical issues.
Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Sidwell Friends School
Brown is gatekeeper at the private school favored by power parents such as the Clintons and the Obamas.
President, Prince George’s Community College
With more than 44,000 students at six locations, PGCC is also home to the National CyberWatch Center.
Superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools
She has successfully negotiated later start times for high-schoolers and eliminated half-day Mondays for elementary kids.
Chancellor, DC Public Schools
Henderson has managed to close some underutilized schools, raise test scores, and win the confidence of more District parents.
President, Trinity Washington University
Trinity attracts students of all backgrounds and ages—though 95 percent of its undergraduates are women—with classes on the main campus in Northeast DC and in Anacostia.
President, Montgomery County School Board
O’Neill presides over a system looking for a permanent superintendent and coping with a rapidly changing school population.
President, Montgomery College
Pollard heads one of Maryland’s largest community colleges, with nearly 60,000 students. The new Bioscience Education Center in Germantown represents an $87.9-million investment in STEM education and workforce development.
Health and Medicine
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, MedStar Health
M. Joy Drass
Drass oversees ten hospitals in the Washington-Baltimore area.
Senior Vice President of the Office of Policy and Representation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
The top lobbyist for one of the nation’s largest health insurers.
Directors, National Institutes of Health
Grady (who heads the National Institute of Nursing Research), Somerman (head of the Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research), and Volkow (who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse) oversee major research on important medical issues including brain science and disease predictors.
President, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States
Under Horn’s leadership, the HMO has standardized electronic record-keeping and wellness care.
CEO, American Red Cross in the National Capital Region
Mathes is on the case every time a family is dislocated by fire, flood, or other disaster. She manages the local blood supply and is key to the region’s disaster-preparedness.
Wife of Kuwait’s Ambassador to the US
Sheikha Rima Al-Sabah
The newest goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency, she’s known locally for her philanthropy and her ability to gather A-listers at her version of the Davos conference.
Ambassador from Jordan
Alia Hatoug Bouran
She holds a key diplomatic post, representing one of the critical US allies in the fight against ISIS.
President and CEO, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Harman gained her foreign-policy cred after nine terms representing her California district in Congress and serving on all the major security committees.
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
The head of one of the most powerful economic institutions in the world, Lagarde leads with a calming voice amid global economic uncertainty.
Partner, Arnold & Porter
Lisa S. Blatt
Blatt holds the record for the most cases argued by a female attorney before the US Supreme Court.
Director, DC Public Defender Service
Director since 2004, Buchanan last year received the Presidents’ Award for Public Service from the Washington Council of Lawyers.
Managing Partner, Crowell & Moring
The expert in labor law spearheaded a program to develop and retain more women and minorities at the firm. Fewer than 5 percent of the country’s law firms have a woman as firm-wide managing partner.
Associate Justices, US Supreme Court
The three “Supremes” have been key to majority decisions upholding the Affordable Care Act and supporting marriage equality.
US Attorney General
Since her Senate confirmation in April, Lynch has been front and center on critical civil-rights issues, such as the Freddie Gray case, and has brought down the corrupt leadership of the international soccer federation, FIFA.
judges, US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
They both faced an uphill battle, caught in a political crossfire in the Senate over changing filibuster rules, but Millett and Pillard were confirmed in 2013 to the second-most important court in the land.
Chairman, Bryan Cave
The litigator is one of the few women to head a major international law firm.
Local Public Powers
Mayor of DC
Her Honor has her hands full with longstanding problems such as homelessness, a broken EMS system, and still-troubled schools.
Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Bulova, who gets credit for the Silver Line, has no strong opponents in the upcoming county election.
This Republican from Virginia will be a key player in GOP plans to turn her state from purple to red in 2016.
If the Maryland Democrat wins her Senate campaign, she’ll be the first African-American woman to represent the state in that chamber.
Virginia State Senator
The Democrat serves on the key Senate budget committee protecting Northern Virginia’s interests. She also stands up to the Republican majority: When another senator proposed that an ultrasound be required before every abortion, Howell added a rider that every man be required to have a rectal exam before getting a prescription for erectile-dysfunction medication.
Chief of Police, Metropolitan Police Department
Rising homicide rates threaten Lanier’s status as the most popular official in the District.
DC delegate to Congress
Eleanor Holmes Norton
A conservative Republican House won’t give an inch on expanded home rule for the District, but for 25 years DC residents have sent Norton back to the Hill to keep trying.
Vice President of Growth and Analytics, Vox Media
Bell and Ezra Klein left the Washington Post to start Vox.com. In August, NBCUniversal made a $200-million equity investment in Vox Media.
General Manager, WRC-TV
The NBC station leads its rivals in local news.
Washington Bureau Chief, New York Times
The former White House and Pentagon reporter took over the bureau in early September.
The former editor of Foreign Policy was the founder of Politico’s long-form magazine.
Gray is one of the new girls on the bus transforming Presidential-campaign coverage.
Executive Director of Emerging News Markets, Washington Post
She has shared three Pulitzers as a print journalist, but now Haik is shaking things up at the Post’s emerging platforms.
President and CEO, PBS
The woman who brought Downton Abbey to the US has also forged many digital partnerships, increased the network’s online video portals, expanded resources for teachers and classrooms, and picked up dozens of broadcasting awards.
Chief Operating Officer, Politico
In 2006, Kingsley joined Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris at Politico’s inception. She now directs its multi-platform operations.
Chairman and CEO, BET Networks
Debra L. Lee
BET, a unit of Viacom, is the leading provider of entertainment targeted at African-Americans.
President and CEO, Tegna
When Gannett split up, Martore’s company got the lucrative broadcast stations and the digital-media operation.
Senior Director of Content and News, WAMU 88.5
McDaniel joined WAMU in August to oversee news and talk programming, develop new content, and redefine the station on-air and online.
Washington Bureau Chief, Bloomberg News
Murphy was lured from the Financial Times.
Radio Talk-Show Host, WAMU
Rehm attracts A-list authors and opinion leaders to her nationally syndicated program.
Executive Editor, CNN Politics
As head of CNN’s digital coverage, Smolkin will have a strong voice in the network’s 2016 coverage.
Co-President and Co-CEO, C-SPAN
Swain oversees programming for C-SPAN’s three TV channels and its radio feed.
White House Social Secretary
Dyer proved her social savvy overseeing major back-to-back events for the pope and the President of China. She’s got a hand on the most coveted guest lists in town.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
Admiral Michelle Howard
The first female four-star admiral in the Navy’s history, Howard is no paper-pusher—she was the first African-American woman to command a ship, and she led squadrons of elite fighters before coming to the Pentagon.
Senior Adviser to the President
Officially, Jarrett oversees the White House offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs as well as chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls. Unofficially, “the Obama whisperer” has the chief executive’s ear and his back.
Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, US Army
Lieutenant General Mary Legere
As the Army’s senior intelligence officer, she’s in charge of the readiness, modernization, and development of the 58,000 soldiers and civilians in the military intelligence corps.
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Despite Republican opposition, McCarthy keeps pushing the EPA forward—including tough new rules on clean water.
Adviser to Hillary Clinton
Mills was deputy White House counsel for Bill Clinton and now serves as a top strategist for Hillary’s Presidential campaign.
Homeland-Security and Counterterrorism Adviser to the President
Monaco also oversees the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.
Her campaigns for healthy eating, exercise, and helping military families have won her more fans than her husband has.
Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
DARPA is key to keeping a smaller armed forces effective through better technology.
Rice laid the groundwork for President Xi Jinping’s September visit at a time of China’s economic setbacks and increased military belligerence.
Director, National Reconnaissance Office
Sapp is the intelligence community’s eye in the sky.
US Chief Technology Officer
The former Google Vice President came east to promote technology innovation and advance smarter tech policies.
Chair, Securities and Exchange Commission
Mary Jo White
The SEC recently issued a rule mandating that public companies disclose the pay ratio of CEOs to the median of its employees.
Chair of the Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System
When Yellen speaks, stock markets rise or fall.
On the Hill
The Republican from New Hampshire is a vocal member of the Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Budget committees. She may be on the shortlist for a vice-Presidential nomination.
The Maine Republican has emerged as a major dealmaker in the divided Senate.
Maryland’s retiring senator will be fighting for the state to get a bigger piece of the federal pie until the day she departs. Two of the three finalist sites for the new FBI headquarters are in Prince George’s County.
Minority Leader, US House of Representatives
With the majority often battling itself, Pelosi has been able to wield considerable power by keeping her Democratic caucus together. That’s how the California congresswoman managed to preserve funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
US Representative from Washington State
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
As chair of the House Republican Conference, Rodgers is the highest-ranking woman in the Republican leadership.
Senior Adviser and Digital Director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
National Journal reports that Skiles is the social-media guru for House Democrats.
Chief of Staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
After three decades working for Republicans in Congress, Soderstrom is now McConnell’s right hand and the highest-ranking female staffer on the Hill.
Warren seems to wield more influence by not running for President. For example, the Massachusetts Democrat has kept the SEC’s feet to the fire on banking and investment regulations.
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde
Budde is the first female bishop in the diocese, which includes the area’s most famous church, Washington National Cathedral. She has been a vocal supporter of the Episcopal Church’s sanctioning of same-sex marriage.
This article appears in our November 2015 issue of Washingtonian.